Ares bit their lip and dug their fingers into the skin of their palms. They could do this. They had to. Just like they’d rehearsed.
“Please state your full name for the court.”
“Can I use my preferred name?”
Ares saw their lawyer shoot them a withering look before asking the judge to approach the bench. The two whispered in hushed tones for a few minutes before the Judge said: “I’ll allow it.”
“Ares Winter… Your honor.” They tacked that last bit on for good measure. I mean. It couldn’t hurt, could it?
“Please state for the court, in your own words, what happened on the night in question.”
Ares closed their eyes and took a breath to calm themselves. They could hear their own heart thudding against their eardrums. The anxiety was coming back. Like they rehearsed.
“Your honor. If I may…” it was their attorney again. “You can’t just expect a young… person who has gone through something traumatic…”
“I’ll hear from you in time. Right now, I want to hear from… what are your pronouns child?”
“Right now, I want to hear from them.” The Judge then addressed Ares themself. “In your own words, take as much time as you need.”
“I went to a party with a friend.” The courtroom melted away. The loud music, the other kids, every few feet the dizzying smell of alcohol. Ares knew they shouldn’t be here. They didn’t want to be here, but Jackson insisted. He’d never been to a party before and he sure wasn’t going alone. If only…
The party music faded out of their eardrums as the courtroom came back into focus. The judge was looking at them in concern, their lawyer was apologizing profusely and insisting that they had been prepped for this and that he didn’t know why… For Jackson. They just had to remember they were here for Jackson. “I’m sorry. I’m just… For a minute I thought… Nevermind. My friend was Jackson. He’s the one… Jackson was trans-masculine. No one at our school knew. At least, we thought no one knew. We’d transferred after his parents got his name changed, he was on schedule with his hormones, there was no reason…”
“If you knew the reason you two were invited to the party, would you have declined the invitation?”
“What the… of course we would have.” Ares could have kicked themself. Their lawyer had talked about keeping their cool, he had told them that the judge’s questions might be difficult, they might even seem unfair but never to talk back. Hadn’t he said that?
The lawyer looked ready to step up and say something before the judge waved him down and motioned for Ares to continue. Again, the courtroom gave way to memories of the party. How Fredrick Johnson had wrapped his arm around Jackson like they were old pals and pulled him into the midst of the party before outing him to everyone. How Jackson had broken away and ran.
“No one knew that Fredrick had a friend that went to Jackson’s old school. All the kids laughed at him. They called him names. I didn’t…” Ares felt their eyes well up with tears. “I should have done something more, but it was all too much. I have… I have problems with noise and smells and…”
“What happened after that?”
“Jackson ran out. I don’t remember…” The laughing, the names, Jackson’s scream. “I heard him scream.”
“Did you see his attacker?” Ares returned to the party. They stumbled out, away from the noise, in the direction Jackson had run. As the party sounds and smells faded away they found their senses returning and the panic subside.
“Jackson!” they called. Then the scream. What do you do when you hear a scream? Run towards it? Run away? Ares pulled out their phone.
“I called 9-1-1. When I got to Jackson, it was too late. He was…”
“And you didn’t see his attacker?”
Their lawyer’s words rang out in their mind. “You know who did it. Jackson can’t speak so you have to speak for her.” Ares hated that the lawyer misgendered Jackson. They were sure he'd use the wrong name too if Jackson’s parents hadn’t had it legally changed. Ares’ revenge was to never remember the lawyer’s actual name and only think of him as what he did. They supposed the judge didn’t deserve that, but the bright lights of the courtroom were already disorienting them.
“It was Freddie. Freddie attacked Jackson.”
“And you saw this?”
“Can’t you prove it with… I don’t know, DNA and stuff?” Ares was defensive because the night was too hard. Every time they went back to it, all that remained of their memories was calling 9-1-1 and heading towards the sound of the scream. Then, finding Jackson, clothing ripped, eyes staring vacantly into nothing.
“I’m sorry, but the rape kit was inconclusive. Should I play the tape?” Ares felt their heart race even harder, and they started to hyperventilate. “Do you need a second to calm down?”
Ares dug their nails even deeper into their own skin. “No. Play it.”
“9-1-1 what’s your emergency.”
“I heard a scream. I think someone is hurting my friend.”
“We are sending police to your location. Can you describe the assailant.”
“I am on my way to… oh my God! What have you done?”
“Ma’am. I’m going to need you to stay with me until the police get there. We are also sending an ambulance. Okay?”
“You monster! How could you? Jackson! Jackson!” There was the sound of sirens wailing in the distance and the tape cut off. The judge looked at Ares as they came back fully into the courtroom. “You are clearly talking to the attacker. Can you identify him?”
Tears stung the back of Ares eyes as they scanned the courtroom. Freddie sat in the defendant chair, his father and lawyer beside him. Ares nodded mutely. They rose their shaky finger and pointed out the culprit. Freddie’s dad.